Love Your Body

'I am a woman': Moms show their real post-baby bodies

Ashlee Wells Jackson has long photographed women for a living. But her latest project, the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, is a series showing women in a more revealing light: They are shown nearly baring it all, while holding their babies.

The idea for the project came after Jackson, who lives in Chicago, suffered a tragedy. Her pregnancy with twin girls ended at 24 weeks, when Jackson went into preterm labor. Only one twin, daughter Nova, survived.

"I felt broken and damaged, and at a point in my life where I wanted to be celebrating my body for creating life, I was dealing with the fact that it took it away,” says Jackson.

Five months after bringing Nova home, Jackson took a photo of herself naked and scarred, holding her baby.  

"I wanted to put a picture of myself out there to help myself cope and to hopefully help other women," she said.

From that photo, the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project was born. Jackson posted on Facebook looking for other moms who would be willing to bare their very real post-baby bodies for photo documentary. And many did.

Said one mom who was photographed: “[This project] has changed my life...I no longer immediately look in the mirror and say my stomach looks terrible, my hips are enormous.. I say, ‘I am a woman...I am beautiful and I had a child.”

  • Slideshow Photos

    The 4th Trimester Bodies Project

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    Proud mom of 5 -

    Amber Meyer, mother of 5, shown with her three youngest, identical twins Lauren and Lilly, 4, and Julia, 22 months. (She also has Madilyn, 13, and Jaydon , 10.) Amber made it to 34 weeks with her twins but she started hemorrhaging and almost lost her life. After a week in ICU, she returned to her family and her girls came home after 21 days. Amber was amazed by a healthy pregnancy and Julia’s birth 2 years later.

    Ashlee Wells Jackson / Ashlee Wells Jackson
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    All in the family -

    A multigeneration shoot in Los Angeles organized by Carly Journey brought together this beautiful bunch. From left, Carly, 23, and Eliana, 14 months; Jennifer (mom to three, including Carly); Jo, 85, (mom to Jennifer); Laura (sister-in-law to Carly) and Lennon Rose, 3 months.

    Ashlee Wells Jackson / Ashlee Wells Jackson
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    Mama of boys -

    Angie Melicher Pritchard, beautiful mom of three boys ages 8, 6 and 2.

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    Bouncing back -

    Tanya Mance with son Amin, 9, and daughter Beja, 7. After healthy pregnancies and deliveries, Tanya had postpartum depression and doesn’t have much recollection of her first few months with her babies. She’s grateful to have lots of videos and pictures to look back on and feels much healthier now.

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    Beautiful battle scars -

    Ashlee Wells Jackson, mom of three, the creator of the The 4th Trimester Bodies Project. Ashlee delivered son Xavier, 7, at 28 weeks. She also had an emergency c-section at 24 weeks due to complications from twin to twin transfusion syndrome. Daughter Nova, 8 months (pictured here), survived, but angel Aurora did not.

    Ashlee Wells Jackson / Ashlee Wells Jackson
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    Second time around -

    Carrie Bean with sons Tanner Elliot, 3, and Camden Zachery, 15 months. After a difficult delivery with Tanner, who was born with the cord around his neck and had to go to the NICU, Carrie’s second delivery was perfect. She labored at home and arrived at the birth center just a couple hours before Camden was born. Working with midwives and having such a natural experience was very healing for Carrie.

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    Smiles all around -

    Smiling moms and babes, such as Rhonda Ansier and her son Connor, were a constant in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project by Chicago photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson. Says Jackson: "I am grateful for each and every woman who has had the bravery to join me on this journey and for the thousands who are following along with us."

    Ashlee Wells Jackson / Ashlee Wells Jackson
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    Carrying on -

    Giorgia Cameron gives a loving piggie back ride to daughter Sophia.

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    Zen mama -

    Hanta Ralay-Ranaivo with 18 month old, Aiko. Hanta is a doctor/researcher specializing in severe brain trauma, originally from Madagascar. Hanta says that she was an anxious person previously but through pregnancy and birth she became very zen and stated it was the most important experience of her life.

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    Home sweet home(birth) -

    Hillary Scharmann and son Holden, 7 months. Hillary is a birth doula and had a wonderful home birth experience. She was, however, turned away from the first midwifery practice she sought out due to her weight. Hillary is a vocal advocate of self love and body positivity.

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    I am a woman, a mother -

    Jill Smyth, mom to Ada, 4, and Oakley 3 months, on why she participated in this project: “Because I am a woman. Because I am a mother. Because I was raised by a woman who was also a mother. Because mothers everywhere have had a hard time being themselves.”

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    Brooklyn babes -

    Jo Greep, mom to Penelope, 3, and Eleanor, 19 months (pictured). Both of Jo's babies were born at home in Brooklyn.

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    Three generations -

    Jessica Mota, left, daughter Raeliana, 23 months, and grandma Nancy Mota. Jessica followed in mom Nancy's footsteps and had three kids, too.

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    C-section survivor -

    Amanda Frazier with sons Oliver, 4, and Benjamin, 11 months. Amanda had Oliver at age 19 and had an unplanned C-section, with complications. Despite being told she could not have another baby, she had a healthy pregnancy and C-section delivery with Benjamin.

    Ashlee Wells Jackson / Ashlee Wells Jackson

Kristen Lynn Photographie and Beth Fletcher Photography also shot photos used in this segment.

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